PRIMARY COLORS: I’m going to do one of those line-by-line bloggy things where you dissect some article by someone who actually got paid for his writing. If you hate those, skip. This is on that Salon.com interview with DeWayne Wickham about why black people overwhelmingly picked Clinton as the country’s best president. Several of my points here are from Shamed; you can assume they’re the good ones.

First, some good points by Wickham: “Of the first 15 presidents, 13 of them were staunch supporters of slavery. Eight of them actually owned slaves. Only John Adams and John Quincy Adams had no stomach for the institution. When you start talking about 41 presidents, you’ve already lost a third of them right there.

“Then, what you find is that most presidents ran away from the black community. It was a difficult issue during slavery for white politicians. It was a difficult issue in the post-slavery period for politicians.”

“[Clinton] convinced us in words and in deeds that this relationship was at least partly in his heart, as well as in his head. This guy grew up in the back of his grandfather’s store in Hope, Ark., hanging out with black kids. …And he hung out with black folk, he understood our music, he understood our culture and he understood how to connect. So by the time he entered the political world, here was a white man who could say, not just ‘I have some black friends,’ but say it and mean it.”

This rings true to me.

Then the lameness starts: “Black folk have a built-in radar for B.S., particularly when it’s racial B.S. It started with slavery…”

Look, nobody has a built-in radar for B.S. And if black people’s B.S. radar existed, and it started with slavery, I think I should get at least half a Jewish B.S. radar that would be much, much better. After all, the Jews have millennia’s worth of “racial memory”! Oh wait, that doesn’t exist. Oops.

“If you look at our struggle, what you find is that there’s great sympathy among African-American people. Even in our greatest time of need, we always seem to have just a little space in our heart for somebody else. Whether we’re talking about the Seminole Indians with whom we formed a relationship when we were slaves, or whether you’re talking about the Asian-Americans who came to work on the Transcontinental Railroad that we bonded with, we always find a spot in our heart for others who we thought were downtrodden.”

Except the Koreans. Oh, and the Irish, back in the day. (Oh, and the women Clinton jerked around, harassed, and probably raped.) Self-congratulatory racial blather. But wait!

“It all helps, by the way, if the person who we perceive as being set upon is someone that we also perceive as being a friend.”

Oh, that explains it.

Next, the interviewee does report that most black people support welfare reform. (Does he think welfare reform arose out of “spot in our heart for others who we thought were downtrodden”? Just curious…) He also compares Clinton’s large numbers of black appointees to Dubya’s large number of Hispanic appointees (like Jessica Gavora). He doesn’t comment on this, though. If you ask yourself, “Should a president be closer to black people, or to Hispanics?”, you start to see why a lot of the bean-count-y questions don’t really make much sense.

“The amazing thing about government is that the White House, the president and his staff at best can control about 10 percent of what happens in government. When they send appointees over to Treasury or Agriculture or Labor or wherever, they can focus in on the top two or three issues from the White House. The rest they have to leave to the appointees. When you have a large number of African-Americans in those positions, you can understand why in the Clinton administration, black unemployment went down, black home ownership came up, black business ownership grew. You had so many people in place dealing with a broad range of issues that impacted the ability of African-Americans to achieve in those areas.”

OK, maybe, just maybe, Wickham can produce evidence that Clinton’s appointees actually caused employment rates, business ownership, and home ownership to rise. But without such evidence, this paragraph makes it sound like government is omnipotent. Also, either a) any effect of Clinton appointees on black people’s wallets occurred via magic, or b) there are specific policies that caused these changes. If b), why can’t these policies be promoted by white, Asian, Hispanic, Eskimo, etc. appointees? Are we to assume that only black bureaucrats (armed with their B.S. radars) can properly manage the economy?

…Somewhere around this part of the article, I started noticing a creepy aura of “At last! A white guy told us we mattered!” Yeah, I’d want that too–but to sign a political blank check on the basis of some barbecue wings, sax solos and Walter Mosley novels?

“The answer is, he did it [showed a love of black culture] and no one else did. Whether he did it because he was serious in his intent to understand a significant portion of the population of this country, or whether he did it because he saw them as the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituency, he did it.”

But Lincoln gets no credit for the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, because he didn’t do it out of the pure goodness of his heart?

The point that Clinton made the first official presidential visit to Africa, ever, is really good. I’d be more impressed if I thought Clinton went there because Africans are important, rather than because Africans could help him score points with black Americans.

“If your greatest goals and expectations are not realized, and they never are, what you have to then come to some understanding of is, ‘Who has come closer to helping you realize these goals among those who have been occupants of the Oval Office?’ Bill Clinton is on the shortlist.”

What were those goals? Ending slavery–nope. Desegregation in schools and the military–nope. Civil Rights Acts–nope. Welfare reform–yup, apparently. Looking like he cared about black people–100%.

“The pardons that Clinton got the most attention for in the black community had to do with African-Americans, including Kemba Smith [a young black woman sentenced to 24 years in prison without possibility of parole for her role in her boyfriend's drug ring]. While most people in the media were focused on his pardoning some rather notorious white folk, the black community was applauding his pardon of Kemba Smith. Again, we separated it out and looked at it from our perspective.”

Kemba Smith pardon: Yay! (And it should have gotten a lot more mainstream coverage.) But isn’t the basic attitude here narrow-minded and even somewhat grasping? Forget about the pardons for influential criminals–we got one of ours!

A depressing interview. Tomorrow I’ll post cheerier stuff about black America.

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